RUNNING TIME: 108 Minutes
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It’s The Ring meets Fellini’s 8 1/2, which then meets The Ring again. It differentiates itself from The Ring by featuring a haunted hat.
Pitchanart Sakakorn, Apasiri Nitibhon, Penpak Sirikul, Chokchai Charoensuk
One of the many reasons for C&C Music Factory’s disappearance from the music scene was their bad habit of sneaking up on Asian sound editors and murdering them.
Ting, a struggling Thai actor working to make a name for herself in Bangkok, finds a unique way to hone her skills and pay the bills: she helps the local police solve brutal crimes by re-enacting the part of the victim at the crime scene. Ting becomes somewhat of a celebrity for her passionate portrayals of murdered women, but her celebrity comes at a price- a GHOSTY price. Since Thai ghosts are more sensitive than lazy American ghosts, Ting’s new gig upsets them immensely, so they begin tormenting the frightened young woman. Does the mysterious disappearance of a popular beauty queen hold the key to this supernatural mystery? Will she be able to solve the case before she’s overtaken by the spirits of these vengeful ghosts? Will DreamWorks sue for corpse infringement? For an example of corpse infringement, see exhibit A:
Ghosts. They’re a common element in nearly every cultural lexicon. What do they represent? The personified fear of death? Guilt? Lost opportunity? Who cares! I’m reviewing horror DVDs, not teaching a useless 2-credit English class that you took because you needed a humanities credit to graduate, you illiterate! What matters is that ghosts scare us. We might even be born afraid of ghosts. Naturally, films have been exploiting this fear for many years. So, what makes a ghost film work? Perhaps the most important part is a well-crafted atmosphere of dread. Or maybe believability is more important, since the film needs to push the concept of "ghosts" from the realm of fantasy into the realm of possibility. Disturbing images and sounds are also key. The classic ghost films (e.g. Wise’s The Haunting) have a successful mix of these traits, as well as an intangible quality- let’s call it "Zork"- that make it rise above your common, every day horror fare. Like a case of warts, the classics stay with us long after we’ve left the theater. Does The Victim have "Zork"?
But The Victim is still a very fun ghost movie, and one that’s difficult to review for a very special reason- one that I’ll divulge later with a spoiler warning. It’s a trick movie.
Thailand must be a fascinating place. There are visible and deep undercurrents of spirituality in Thai culture that you just don’t see here in the States. Interweaved into this spirituality are deeply rooted superstitions (see my review of Kiss My Snake, where a group of medics attempt to pray the venom out of a snake victim)- it’s not too much of a stretch to say that ghosts aren’t necessarily just a fantastical, mythological element to their culture. The Victim probably played really well in Bangkok, and here’s why: the film used real crime scenes as shooting locations in many of the key scenes. It was marketed overseas as a truly "haunted" film, and it’s a fun-yet-gimmicky way to differentiate it from the hordes of other ghost films from the past decade. If I actually believed in ghosts, this gimmick might have made Victim much more unsettling. It adds a dark, fun curiosity to the film, so kudos to whoever came up with that idea.
The Jensens were quiet and courteous neighbors, but their nightly glaring sessions kept them from making new friends in the building.
Ok, I can’t hold it in anymore. I’m about to reveal the "trick" to this trick film, since it’s really difficult to have any kind of discussion about it without going into the twist. If you want a spoiler-free review, it’s this: I gave The Victim a 7.2 out of 10. It liberally rips off The Ring and isn’t very frightening, but gets tons of points for toying with convention and pulling the rug out from underneath my ass. If you want to be surprised, read no further.
For the first forty minutes, we follow "Ting" on her quest to solve a very run-of-the-mill ghost mystery. It’s atmospheric, but trite, hollow, and mostly useless. There are a few well-placed ghost images and jump scares, but it’s Asian horror at its most generic. At the forty-one minute mark, just as Ting is about to evade a knife-wielding attacker, we hear the director yell "CUT!" from the background. Frames skip in and out of focus and we pull out from behind the camera to discover that we’ve been watching the filming of The Victim. In other words, half of this film is an elaborate film-within-a-film rouse, and it completely switches gears from this point onward. We find out that "Ting" is really a fictional character being played by May (also played by Pitchanart Sakakorn), a popular Thai actress. All of the other characters from the film’s first half virtually disappear, and they’re replaced by The Victim‘s "filmmakers" (although the director, editor, and so forth in the second half are really actors- they didn’t completely break through the fourth wall. They just created a fake fourth wall and constructed a "film set" set around it). This makes Victim difficult to review, as it’s really two distinct films. It succeeds in bringing the viewer out of a phony, derivative ghost world into the "real world", making the supernatural goings-on in this world even more effective. It’s a great trick, and it surprised the hell out of me.
Since the station wagon only seated five, Ted’s mother-in-law had to sit in the "fun seat" during family trips. The "fun seat" was a bungee cord strapped to the rear passenger door.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the "real world" of The Victim is also chock full of ghosts, since many of its scenes were filmed at actual murder locations. May/Ting and her filmmaking associates make contact with real ghosts, and they turn out to be just as deadly as the subjects of their film. Most of the goodwill I’m giving to this movie comes from this "tricking" device, as it’s really well done and makes The Victim a fun and unique experience.
Now, on to the bad stuff. While I can forgive the derivative first half, the second half also borrows heavily from other horror films (again, see Exhibit A at the top of this page). Cue the strange dancing ghost lifted from Pulse, the desiccated corpses from The Ring, and the floating ghouls from The Eye. The ending was also a total letdown. While they could have really creeped us out by insinuating that The Victim (not only the film-within-a-film, but the ACTUAL film being watched by the audience) was a "haunted" film, they instead opted to reveal the source of Victim‘s ghost woes by shoehorning in a brand new character with a completely unrelated backstory. As it turns out, May was given a haunted hat, and she subsequently cursed the production by wearing it during one of the shoots. I hated this ending. They could have really made their twist device pay off by nailing the second half, but it fizzles out. The Victim may be two distinct films with good moments in each, but both are flawed.
Luckily, Victim’s sum is greater than its individual parts. It’s a fun little carnival ride that does a great job disorienting the viewer. If you’ve read this far, it probably won’t work as well for you as it did for me, but I still recommend it.
There’s some fun stuff here. I forgot to mention that during the end credits of The Victim, we’re treated to actual stills from the preceding film where the filmmakers capture and point out what appear to be ghostly images from different parts of the frame. It’s a fun, creepy little "value added" touch that makes The Victim a unique flick. We’re given a few TV spots and specials that push the "REAL CRIME SCENE LOCATIONS!" aspect of The Victim, and even insinuate that the filming of Victim may have been actually haunted. Interviews from cast and crew reveal unsettling stories of mysterious door-slammings and light-turnings-on, and we’re treated to more stills that the filmmakers insist include real ghost images. I wish they would have pushed this aspect of The Victim in the second half, rather than the whole "ghost hat" thing. I’m still pissed about that ending. We also get trailers. The cover is respectably creepy, although there’s a David Manning-ish quote on the back that reads "…A TALE OF POSSESSION!". It’s like calling Jaws "A TALE OF SHARK!". It doesn’t really say much about anything. Still, it’s funny.
A culinary contemporary of General Tso, General Steve had little success with his own chicken recipe, mostly because the meat was harvested from the drain pipes of highway rest stop bathrooms.
7.2 out of 10